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A Serious Man (2009)

Starring:

Aaron Wolff

Adam Arkin

Alan Mandell

Andrew S. Lentz

Brent Braunschweig

David Kang

Fred Melamed

George Wyner

Jessica McManus

Michael Stuhlbarg

Peter Breitmayer

Richard Kind

Ronald Schultz

Sari Lennick

Directed by:

Joel and Ethan Coen

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 105 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States, United Kingdom, France

The Coen Brothers are always going to have their new works compared with an already impressive back catalogue including No Country For Old Men, Fargo and The Big Lebowski, and unfortunately, I will do that, and state that the mediocre A Serious Man doesn’t quite fall in with this esteemed company. 

The Coen’s latest outing is set in a quiet Midwestern town in 1967 and follows the life of Larry Gupnik (Stuhlbarg – a younger carbon copy of Eugene Levy), a university professor, husband of Judith (Lennick), and father to an ill-disciplined son (Wolff) and a daughter who wants a nose job (McManus). Bad luck hits him from all angles as he is subjected to divorce proceedings, car crashes, arguments with the neighbours and threats from the Chinese Mafia, amongst other disasters. Larry’s once stable suburban life is turned upside down and things lurch from bad to worse and we see a man struggling to cope with life. 

This dark comedy is peppered with an abundance of quirky characters but although the quantity may be there, the quality isn’t as the characters just aren’t all that memorable. Much of the comedy is to be garnered in the usual Coen way through their character’s mannerisms and the way things are said. In A Serious Man though, it’s hit-and-miss and there are awkward moments where the laughs should be. Furthermore, not enough is made of Richard Kind as Larry’s socially backward brother.

There are the occasional laugh-out-loud moments and decent scenarios, like when young Danny Gopnik goes through his Bar Mitzvah ceremony stoned and barely in control of his functions. The Coen’s use of stylistic devices and on-running themes exploring chaos and despair make this slightly more sophisticated than the usual comedy fare. Repeated viewings are recommended to get to the bottom of the bewildering ending. The place where A Serious Man falls down is that there isn’t a fascinating storyline acting as a driving force, like a bungled kidnapping or a psychotic hitman, in which the characters can get in over their heads. However much deep meaning is to be derived from the angst-ridden storyline and the biblical punishment of the Job-like Larry, it is not engrossing enough to hold the interest of the casual moviegoer and to elevate it above a decent effort.

It's Got: A sophisticated look at some of life's big questions, the occasional laughs

It Needs: More to interest the casual moviegoer, a better set of characters

Summary

A Serious Man tackles some big questions but this occasionally funny dark comedy is a little too clever for it’s own good and is just not engrossing enough to grip the casual viewer.

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